Communists, observers report violations in Russian election

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Chechen women wait to fill their ballots in a voting booth at a polling station during the Parliamentary elections in Grozny, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Sunday is the last of three days voting for a new parliament, but there seems to be no expectation that United Russia, the party devoted to President Vladimir Putin, will lose its dominance in the State Duma. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of Russia’s second-largest political party is alleging widespread violations in the election for a new national parliament, in which his party is widely expected to gain seats.

Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov said on Saturday — the second of three days of voting in the election — that police and the national elections commission must respond to reports of “a number of absolutely egregious facts” including ballot-stuffing in several regions.

The Golos election-monitoring movement and independent media also reported violations including vote-buying and lax measures for guarding ballots at polling stations.

The United Russia party, which is diligently loyal to President Vladimir Putin appears certain to retain dominance in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, but some projections suggest it could lose its current two-thirds majority, which is enough to change the constitution. The Communists are expected to pick up the biggest share of any seats lost by United Russia.

Although the Communists generally support Kremlin initiatives in the parliament, their gaining seats would be a loss of face for United Russia. The Communists are seen as potentially benefiting from the “Smart Voting” program promoted by the team of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which aims to undermine United Russia by advising voters on which candidates are in the strongest position to defeat the dominant party’s candidates.

However, it’s unclear how effective the program will be after Apple and Google removed Smart Voting apps from their stores under Kremlin pressure. Authorities previously blocked access to its website. Navalny’s organizations have been declared extremist, blocking anyone associated with them from running for office, thereby eliminating most significant opposition from the election.

Zyuganov said the party has tallied at least 44 incidents of voting violations and that the party has applied for permits to hold protests during the week after the voting ends Sunday.

On Saturday, the news website Znak said a resident of the Moscow region was offering 1,000 rubles ($15) to people who voted for United Russia. The publication said it called the man, who said the payment would come if the caller provided evidence of his vote through a messaging app.

The Golos movement cited reports from its observers and local news media of an array of apparent violations, including ballots being stored overnight in a cabinet with a broken door and of envelopes for storing ballot tallies appearing to have been opened and then resealed.

On the first day of voting Friday, unexpectedly long lines formed at some polling places, and independent media suggested this could show that state institutions and companies were forcing employees to vote.

Media in St. Petersburg reported on suspected cases of “carousel voting,” in which voters cast ballots at several different polling stations. An AP video journalist saw the same voters, believed to be military school students, at two different polling stations; one of them said the group had first gone to the wrong polling station.

A local elections commission member posted video in which a man appeared to have tried to cast several ballots and then was confronted by a poll worker. The man in the video said he had obtained his ballots at a subway station.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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